As I was driving home on from the beach on Saturday I spotted 20+ Black Swans resting in swamp land. I had not photographed in this swamp before as I knew it would be hard work getting close and low enough to get decent shots. The swamp is muddy and has water levels around 30cm in depth making it challenging to get the camera down to water level without me getting soaked. I returned on Sunday afternoon and took my waders, ground pod, gimbal head, 5dmk4, 500 f4 IS II, 1.4ext, 70-200 and Think Tank bag and set out on foot. I walked about 100m and tried to get on the north west side of the Swans so I had the light coming over my shoulder. I always shoot early morning or late afternoon, I explain why in my post on the importance of light in Bird Photography.
Thankfully the Swans did not fly away when they sighted me instead they let me know they had seen me with their lovely honking. I took a quick snap showing how I saw the Swans upon my approach.
My next challenge was getting down low enough to create a nice angle. I usually lay flat on the ground or riverbank and place my camera on a gimbal mounted on a ground pod. Unfortunately I was unable to find any dry ground and had to wade out into the middle of the swamp to get close to the Swans. I did not fancy laying in the water in the middle of winter. I ended up sitting on my knees and placed the camera on some reeds. I than awkwardly lent forward taking shots. This was hard on my neck and I struggled to look through the viewfinder. What I needed was my tripod and a 90 degree viewfinder so I could simply look down above the camera. Below is an affiliate link for the viewfinder I will probably purchase when I can.
I made the best of what I had and waited for the Swans to come back towards me. It didn’t take too long for the birds to investigate this strange intruder allowing some first shots of the afternoon.
I had plenty of light at this stage as it was 3pm so I was using ISO400 with an aperture of f8 giving me a shutter speed of 1/800. I also used -1/3 of exposure compensation as I did not want the white on the bill to be too hot. The birds were not moving very fast so I did not need an extremely fast shutter speed. This shot appealed to me as I liked the head angle and pose of the bird, this I believe creates an engaging photo. I have written a tutorial on head angle and eye contact for Bird Photography here.
I am not a big fan of the water as the wind has created ripples as opposed to nice smooth water. There is also a little bit of distraction with the dark patch at the base of the reed above the tail of the bird. This is a minor complaint but it is always worth checking the background when photographing birds to reduce distractions.
Another shot that I liked was this side profile of the Black Swan calling. It should always be a focus to capture some sort of behaviour, that is the ultimate goal of wildlife photography. The below shot was a keeper as I liked the pose and the water droplet added a little something. The background does let the shot down as it is a little messy, the background is not out of focus enough to be a solid colour and not in focus enough to tell what it is.
It is worth noting that I take a lot of photos in a session, I believe I took close to 1000 shots this afternoon. Of those I have kept 68 photos and processed 5. I actually enjoy the process of taking photos and then narrowing it down to the best shots. I believe you have more chance of getting keepers if you take lots of photos 🙂
If you are curious how I manage to get such smooth out of focus backgrounds please be sure to read my 4 step guide on achieving beautiful backgrounds.
Below shows a few images that were deleted, any image where I do not have eye contact or a good pose is an instant delete. There are also times that the camera misses focus either grabbing the background or when the bird is a little soft.
The beauty of photographing birds in the afternoon is the light is always improving. I knew that as the sun dropped I would get some lovely warm light casting on the water and reeds. I had a shot in mind that I wanted a Swan gliding past a slightly out of focus reed bank. I wanted the reeds to add context without being overpowering. The tricky part was getting a bird that was just the right distance from the bank to make a pleasing shot. After a number of shots I managed a few shots that ticked all the boxes of what I had hoped to capture. The only thing letting the shots down is they lack any sort of behaviour or action. Even so I was very happy to have spent the afternoon in the swamp with these beautiful birds.
As with birding if you follow birds and spend enough time with them opportunities often appear. I wasnt fully aware I had gotten the below shot until I was at home reviewing the shots.
I like this shot as the pose is very engaging with the bird almost bending its neck towards the camera, the eye contact is strong giving the viewer a connection to the bird. The low angle has created a pleasing out of focus background and the low wind has given the water a smooth look. The water droplet is an added bonus. When I showed my wife she liked it but said the background was a little boring as it was all the same colour. This is a fair point.
Photographing Black Swans Video
Gallery of Black Swan Photos
Which is Your Favourite Photo?
Bird Photography Techniques Used To Capture Beautiful Bird Images
I always try and photograph birds when the light is good. Feel free to read my article on the importance of light in creating beautiful bird images. I am also always looking to create engaging bird images by capturing good eye contact. Be sure to read my article containing tips on head angle and eye contact for great bird images. I also always photographing birds in RAW, read my article to see why.
Ever wonder how I get nice clean, smooth backgrounds in my photos? I explain 4 steps to a smooth background here.
Photographic Gear Used
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